As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the 10th installment on the right fielders.
This is the final position in the "State of the Cubs" series and comes the week before the 2019 season begins. Yet the Cubs didn't fill right field with Bryce Harper this winter (as of this writing, no MLB team has, for that matter).
The Cubs right field depth chart is essentially the same it was a year ago, with the addition of Daniel Descalso as the only real change.
1. Jason Heyward
2. Ben Zobrist
3. Ian Happ
4. Daniel Descalso
5. Kris Bryant
6. Mark Zagunis
Heyward is still atop the Cubs depth chart in right field and will see the lion's share of playing time there barring injury. The question is: What kind of impact will Heyward make?
The veteran couldn't top 1.0 WAR either of his first two seasons with the Cubs after inking a $184 million deal before 2016, but he matched that total (2.0 WAR) in 2018 thanks to an improved offensive season.
Heyward certainly took a step forward with the bat last year, but he still wasn't quite league average (98 OPS+) and managed just a .395 slugging percentage, 8 homers and 57 RBI in 127 games despite a .270 average and .335 on-base percentage. He also really had just one good month, as June (.873 OPS) was the only month in which he posted an OPS north of .734 and he hit .248 with a .665 OPS from July 1 on.
Heyward is still an elite defender and baserunner and a valued voice inside the clubhouse, so he warrants a majority of right-field starts on those merits alone. But the Cubs could certainly use a consistently productive Heyward from an offensive end amid an offseason in which the only position player addition was Descalso.
The narrative around Heyward will always be the lofty contract and he remains the highest-paid position player on the Cubs in 2019 ($22.5 million salary), behind only Jon Lester ($27.5 million) among all players.
In a winter where the Cubs' financial limitations has been far and away the most talked-about topic, outside expectations will always be there for Heyward to produce more than just league-average offensive numbers. But they don't need him to hit in the middle of the order and all signs point to his 2018 offensive uptick as legit, in large part due to a contact rate bordering on the elite (12.3 percent strikeout rate).
However, the Cubs know all too well they need depth behind Heyward, as he's missed more than 70 games the last two seasons with injuries and Joe Maddon may still want to give him a day off here or there against tough left-handed pitchers. Plus, the Cubs have never shied away from using Heyward in center field from time to time.
That's where Zobrist and the others come in. Right now, the 2016 World Series MVP does not have a path to regular playing time at any one position, but Zobrist figures to see plenty of innings in right field, where he started more games (52) than any other position a year ago.
The Cubs will also need to find ways to get Happ's bat in the lineup and of course, Bryant and Descalso can always move to a corner outfield spot if needed.
Zagunis and a host of other guys — including Johnny Field, Jim Adduci and Zach Borenstein — provide minor league depth should multiple injuries strike the big-league club.
Not Bryce Harper. Sure, he's still a free agent and he would obviously make the Cubs a better team, but it's hard to believe the price on the superstar has come down so much to the point where the Cubs could make it work. Then again, crazier things have certainly happened...
The bottom line
Heyward will be battling the sun and wind in right field at the corner of Clark and Addison all season long once again, though his offense will continue to be a storyline.
State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B
State of the Cubs: SS
State of the Cubs: LF
State of the Cubs: CF
State of the Cubs: RF